Architects Nicolò Lewanski and Federica Russo, co-founders of Italian firm Valari, had worked with a client who wanted to build a house overlooking the Adriatic Sea in Puglia, but they couldn’t find suitable land. The client was about to walk away from the project when Lewanski and Russo came across a rustic masseria (farmhouse) dating back to the 1600s. It was in ruins, but the unparalleled view sold them.
“It may be a cliché, but when we went up to the first floor terrace, the spatial perception exploded”, explain the architects. “We were like, ‘We have to do this one.'”
Still, the client was hesitant, as it would be a much more complicated project than a new build. Not wanting to lose the opportunity, the duo proposed a partnership: Lewanski entered as one of the owners, reassuring the client in the investment and leaving the architects complete creative freedom over the restoration.
Rather than turn the age-old property into a private residence, the team opted to create a vacation rental, an adventure that owners could still enjoy, but which would offer a greater return on investment.
For the restoration, the architects wanted to preserve as much as possible the existing masseria, which had been built on the rock and partially nestled into the mountainside. Much of the original facade was intact and the structural outline was visible, but almost nothing else remained.
“His character was, in a sense, stronger than ever in this roughness,” say the architects. “There were invaluable elements, like the exterior staircase carved into the rock, or the floor of one of the rooms built entirely of rock.”
Lewanski and Russo let the landscape and the horizontal nature of the structure guide the new design. “We decided to work mainly on horizontal elements, identifying connection geometries oriented towards the sea”, explain the architects.
In the original footprint, the main living spaces were oriented perpendicular to the coastline, denying these areas views of the Adriatic. The architects reworked what was once the farmhouse stables to become a long, multi-level kitchen, dining room and living room, removing interior walls and digging into the mountainside to expand the space.
The main living areas are now parallel to the horizon with sea views, each leading to the connected outdoor terrace, in keeping with the local culture. Outside, there’s an infinity pool, fire pit, and multiple gathering spaces, including an outdoor kitchen and dining area.
At the other end of the L-shaped structure is the sleeping wing, with eight double bedrooms and bathrooms spread over two levels. Each room is different from the next.
“We really tried to listen to the character – as well as the characteristics – of each space and see how to enhance it while disturbing as little as possible”, explain the architects.
A room that occupies a space once used to make olive oil, for example, is decorated with olive green furniture. Meanwhile, the two upper-level guest bedrooms feature colorful tile accents and offer access to a wrap-around deck with an outdoor bar and hot tub.
The architects chose interior finishes such as whitewashed oak with plaster, Apricena marble and microcement to bring a “more domestic feel” to the rustic structure with smooth and homogeneous surfaces that contrast with the rough stone. The palette is neutral, with pops of color — cerulean cement tile, coral upholstery on the couch — to reflect the surrounding landscape.
The result is a 5,382 square foot split-level vacation rental that itself offers plenty to explore. “We like to walk around and watch the dialogue between the landscape, the existing masseria and our contemporary additions,” explain the architects. “As you walk you always find different angles; some are what you designed, but some are not intentional, because in an existing structure where each stone is different from the other, there are always more details than you can conceive.”
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